For a man to have been accredited with over 150 confirmed kills, including women and children when protecting his nation in the war against terror, he’s got to have a certain ability to stay mentally strong and not to show any vulnerability. It’s as if he wore a bullet-proof vest, not letting any remorse, or emotion slip through – and he couldn’t, otherwise it would have destroyed him. While that’s entirely understandable and a reflection of reality, for Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper it simply doesn’t make for the most empathetic and compassionate of protagonists, leading to a film that is a struggle to emotionally invest in.
Based on true events, Bradley Cooper plays the interminably diligent Navy S.E.A.L. Chris Kyle, who leaves behind his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) and young children to protect and serve America, situated in the Middle East, where he grows a reputation as one of the most assiduous, dependable snipers – killing anybody who he believes is a threat to his compatriots.
Eastwood has structured his tale masterfully, seamlessly moving between the tours and the more intimate moments at home. Though wildly different to one another, the director depends on a visceral experience to provoke feelings of anxiety, wherever the environment. Be it through sound recognition – such as a dog barking, or the sound of a car engine, we, like Chris Kyle, are never able to shake off the horrors of war, as it serves as a constant reminder of what he’s experienced.
Frustratingly, however, there is not enough emphasis on the family life, and it’s within these more subtle moments where this picture truly excels, rather than the more generic shoot-outs that, while intense, are nothing particularly new. Whereas to study how these experiences have psychologically damaged our protagonist makes for more fascinating territory and is sadly insubstantial in its exploration. That being said, this subtle role brings out a remarkably nuanced performance from Cooper, in one of his finest yet.
Tedious at times, completely gripping in others, American Sniper is a undoubtedly worth watching for its candid study of life in the army, and to honour the achievements of such a loyal, conscientious man, who gave absolutely everything in the name of protection. It’s a relief to see Eastwood present another accomplished feature too, and to be brutally frank, the first in a while that you don’t want to fall asleep in.